Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) can affect your overall quality of life and make day-to-day living challenging.
Quality of life encompasses more than just your physical health. It includes your emotional well-being, ability to function in daily roles, sexual function, levels of pain and fatigue, and even your financial security.
Though you may find it requires more effort to manage your diagnosis at times, here are a few simple changes you can make to improve your quality of life.
Pain may be caused by your treatments for MBC or the condition itself. But there’s no need to live in constant pain. Before the pain gets severe, schedule an appointment with a palliative care and pain specialist. Your oncologist can give you a referral.
Be prepared to give a thorough explanation of your pain, including how it feels and where it’s located.
There are many different treatment options for pain. A pain specialist will ask you questions about your pain symptoms in order to find out what’s causing it. Depending on how you respond, a pain specialist may recommend:
- surgery, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy to shrink a tumor that may be pressing against nerves or other organs
- medications for neuropathic pain
- an anesthetic or steroid injected into or around a nerve to block pain
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve)
- opioid pain medications like morphine or oxycodone (OxyContin)
- bone-strengthening treatments, like bisphosphonates or denosumab (Xgeva, Prolia) to reduce the pain from bone metastases
- antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil) or duloxetine (Cymbalta) to help with neuropathic pain
- local anesthetics like a lidocaine patch
- physical therapy
- massage therapy
Getting a good night’s sleep can seem impossible when you’re faced with the stress of a cancer diagnosis. In one study, 70 percent of women with MBC reported sleep problems.
There are a few simple changes you can make to help cope with insomnia and get the rest you need. Sleeping well can help you reduce daily fatigue and stress levels.
Practicing good “sleep hygiene” and creating a bedtime routine can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Here are a few tips for a healthy sleep routine:
- go to bed and get up at the same time each day
- invest in a high-quality mattress
- keep your bedroom cool and dark
- turn off all screens, including your computer, cell phone, and television at least an hour before bedtime
- keep electronics out of the bedroom completely
- avoid having a large meal before bedtime
- take a warm bath before bed
- avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, especially at night
Up to 1 in every 4 people with cancer are diagnosed with clinical depression, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s important that you take care of your mental health in addition to your physical health.
Women with MBC may find that their body changes significantly during treatment. You may lose your hair due to chemotherapy, gain weight, or you may need to undergo a mastectomy. Seeing yourself with a new body can be an emotional shock.
Don’t be ashamed to allow yourself the necessary time to focus on your mental health. Consider scheduling an appointment to speak to a counselor or mental health professional, especially if you’re feeling sadness or hopelessness that doesn’t go away.
Living with cancer can cause a great deal of stress. Stress can make your fatigue worse and lead to anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.
Examples of ways to reduce stress include:
- tai chi
- mindfulness meditation
- breathing exercises
- massage therapy
- music therapy
Meeting with a support group has many benefits.
It can be comforting to interact with other people going through some of the same things as you. Being social can lift your mood and improve your emotional health and quality of life.
Support groups can also give you important information and advice that you might not be able to get from your doctor.
Support groups can be found in person, online, or via telephone.
These organizations can help you find a support group that works for you:
There are a lot of smartphone applications available to help you keep track of your medications and appointments.
You can scan a drug label directly. The app will automatically know the name, dose, and other details. The app can send you reminders for taking the medication. It can also let you know when it’s time to refill a prescription.
Hobbies help keep you active, social, and engaged. They can momentarily take your mind off your diagnosis and any pain you’re experiencing.
Find a hobby you enjoy and stick with it. Examples include:
See your doctor if any of your medications are causing side effects that affect your day-to-day life. Some side effects will go away over time. Others, like nausea, headaches, hot flashes, or fatigue, can persist for the duration of your treatment.
Your doctor can give you tips on how to reduce these side effects with additional, complementary medications.
Let’s face it, the last thing you’ll want to exert your energy on is cleaning. Reach out for help when it comes to dealing with your chores.
You can hire a cleaning service to come once a week or once every other week. You can also take advantage of organizations like Cleaning for a Reason, which offers free cleaning services to women with cancer.
Life with MBC can be challenging. It’s important to take it one day at a time.
If you find yourself feeling extra tired, depressed, or weighed down by appointments and finances, consider some of these tips.
Despite your diagnosis, you can take steps to improve your quality of life and make it easier to fight MBC.